Speaker 1: This is Teo Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. People without homes in Baltimore City are finally being given a second chance. After successful protests on the front lawn of City Hall, they’ve opened the doors of Pender Hughes Elementary.
The struggle to find housing for the city’s often neglected homeless population started at City Hall, nearly three weeks ago.
There, people lived in tents to bring awareness to a problem that many say has grown worse.
Speaker 2: That is what we’re going to accomplish out here today. We are going to get at least a male and female and we’re going to deal with the majority African-American homeless population that everybody can see.
Speaker 1: Since then the mayor has made a deal to move people to the former Pender Hughes Elementary School in West Baltimore, with the promise of permanent homes.
The Real News went to check to see if the city has made progress and if the residents were closer to finding stable housing.
Speaker 3: At the moment, we have 55 people. That’s all we’re allowed to take at the moment. We’re working on certain zoning and codes to give us permit to use the whole, the permit to use the whole building. Right now, we on the first floor. The second floor will be used for the different organizations that are coming in that are offering their services free of charge. Basically, everything we here, we’re not paying anybody, these people are actually coming up because they’re concerned, they want us to be successful, they want us to flourish. They want us to help our community and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help the community.
I feel like the government has failed our communities. We don’t want to be like a clinical institution. We want to be a facility yes, but we want to be a family facility. Everything here is family ran, it’s family policed, so if I’m having an issue with someone or if someone feels as though Miss Mia’s director and they’re part of my family, they are my family, if they don’t like something I did, I would expect them to pull me up.
Speaker 4: This is not a negative situation, it’s positive. It shows that people can come together from all different walks and that we can somehow form a community that grow together and love each other and help motivate and push each each other forward. What people need to understand is that everyone is one paycheck from being where these people are. There’s no one that’s no better. We all in the same boat. I mean, am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, we are. So we have to help each other. That’s the most important thing that people need to understand.
Speaker 5: Well, I’ve been in the center for about an hour and change, wanted to talk to some of the folks who’ve been operating the center, talking about what their doing in terms of their collaborative process, to talk with representatives from the mayor’s office, just wanted to make sure we had a good handle on what’s happening so not only myself and my staff as well, we wanted to make sure that we were here. So we’ve been hearing things from the community, we want to make sure that we’re just in communication, making sure that we know everything that’s going on and with the process so we can move it forward.
Speaker 6: What are the conditions like inside?
Speaker 5: Conditions inside, actually seem to be fairly decent. We do see one single room where folks are sleeping, we also see folks that were actually doing some community chores. We saw there’s also people giving donations. So there were toiletries there. There were also clothes that were donated. You saw that there were also even a suggestion box and a grievance box that were in there, just trying to make sure that folks were actually having their voices being heard.
There is a self governance here, so we were talking to Samantha, whose actually leading the efforts here. And so for us, it was just trying to gain as much information as possible so we could be informed and be of assistance as possible.
Speaker 3: You have to be, there’s an assessment. Everyone knew in the paper, all papers, everyone who came out knew that there were going to be a two week assessment, I’m pretty sure everyone knew that there was a two week assessment. So now, we’re in the second week of assessments, assessing everyone’s needs. We have some people who will be getting housing when this two weeks are up, do you understand what I’m saying? Because they met certain criteria. Others we may have to work a little bit of help, because they have addiction. We cannot put people with addiction into housing and expect them to be active in their community. We can’t expect them to pay their rent and not put their rent over their addiction.
Speaker 7: We so far as the tent city family, have built a partnership with the folks down at City Hall, the Mayor’s office. We are also a partnership with other grass roots organizations, who are all voted on by the people who are living on the ground, so folks that were a part that are not now are kind of agitated, but you know, it’s all good. These people voted for them to be here. Also, a lot of different city agencies that have come through. There’s a few of them that we had to tell them to leave. And mainly because these are people that are homeless. They are not homeless people. This is not a culture, they are not a religion, and you can come sometimes come in with your nose turned up, you know what I mean? And we want them to feel as comfortable as possible. And we want them to feel like we got their back. We had their back when we was on the ground downtown, so we keeping that rolling up here.
Speaker 1: Now you had said something before about the safety of the people who were in the tent city. Can you tell us something about what the level of violence is for people who are living on the street, what sort of level of violence women and children might be experiencing?
Speaker 7: Well, you know, right here in Baltimore City, we’re being preyed on. We’re being preyed on by folks that are in city government, we’re being preyed on by folks from around this country. And living down there on the ground for nine days, one of the first things I recognized was that we have a city full of predators. You’ve got all of these women that are homeless because of different issues. Some of them are prostitutes but most of them aren’t. And we kept running into situations where we had to physically beat up a few guys because they were trying to grab the women on the street. You know what I mean?
It was a real, real eye opening situation for me, because I had no clue that was going on. You know what I mean? We came down to protect SELC and the other grass roots organizations on the ground and we physically had to pull a guy off a woman. We had to physically beat up a few folks and which I honestly told the mayor. And which why we’re here now. There should be no shelter closed to no women and children at any hour. And if we were willing to sleep on the ground together, then we obviously are willing to sleep in a building together.
Speaker 8: So I have never been secure. I’ve been in this by myself. I will say that. I’ve done this. I’ve got me here. So with me being a stronger person, stronger than some of the other people in the family who could not advocate for themselves, there were two people that were elected to go in to advocate. Out of the two, we did what we did. We went in there and we talked. We spoke up for the family. This is a family based in a family setting. And I say it again, once again, I would like to say thank you to the Mayor for everything that she’s doing, her support and everything she put into, she’s stepping out on faith.
Speaker 1: This is Teo Graham and Steven Janus reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.